T.W. Graham & Co.
Cuisine: Lowcountry seafood
Category: Neighborhood Favorite
Address: 810 Pinckney St., McClellanville
Bar: Beer and wine; BYOB and pay $8 corkage fee per bottle
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; Dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Costs: Appetizers $5.99-$9.99; soups $2.99-$4.99; salads $1-$11.99, plates $11.99-$13.99, burgers $6.99-$9.99; sandwiches $6.99-$11.99; sides $2.99; $1 plate substitution charge; kids menu $4.99-$7.99; desserts $4.50; daily specials MP
Vegetarian Options: Yes, if one eats seafood
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Other: The restaurant will close Sept. 3 and reopen Sept. 26. Closed Mondays. Closed between lunch and dinner service. firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily specials, MP seafood, Thursdays are Mexican Night with specially priced beers and a Mexican menu. Homemade desserts, private label sauces, condiments, pickles, jams, jellies and homemade pimiento cheese can be purchased. Whole pies can be special ordered. No separate checks for parties of six more; reservations for large parties. Credit cards accepted.
What our stars mean:
5 stars: Exceptional; sets a standard for dining excellence.
4 stars: Superior; worth a trip beyond your neighborhood or culinary comfort zone.
3 stars: Solid example of this type of dining.
2 stars: Adequate if you’re in the neighborhood or seeking this type of dining.
1 star: Generally disappointing dining experience.
What our $ signs mean:
One $: $5 to $15
Two $$: $15-$25
Three $$$: $25-$50
Four $$$$: $50 +
The village of McClellanville was established in the 1860s when A.J. McClellan and R.T. Morrison, local plantation owners, made land available for development.
The region that surrounds this sleepy nautical community was originally incorporated in 1706 as part of the St. James-Santee Parish.
It was a coastal retreat from the heat for the rice and indigo planters and home to a vibrant fishing, oystering, crabbing and shrimping way of life.
It survived the devastating effects of a Category Four storm in Hurricane Hugo in 1989. And for this village, the storm was a game changer.
But with the incredible resolve of this tight-knit community, McClellanville is now host to the Lowcountry’s annual Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet in May, a growing clamming operation, a remarkable “soft-crab nursery” at Livingston’s Seafood and a popular seafood restaurant called T.W. Graham & Co.
There, chef and owner Pete Kornack hauls in his own crab pots and turns out regional seafood dishes in that pragmatic way of “mom and pop” operations.
Kornack, a Johnson and Wales grad, and his wife, Claudia, came to the area in the mid-1990s and opened the restaurant in 2003. They brought with them their love of cooking and a family recipe for chowder ($3.99, $4.99) that continues to rock the taste buds of all who order it, including Andrew Zimmern (“Bizarre Foods,” Travel Channel), who was impressed by its “clean” flavors of the sea.
It is a classic example of how good ingredients need no embellishing. Claudia Kornack also contributes to the sweet side of the menu and earns high praise for her key lime, coconut and Pawleys Island pies ($4.50).
The restaurant is surrounded by live oaks, festooned with Spanish moss, Virginia creeper and resurrection ferns whose significance is not lost on those who live here.
T.W. Graham’s beckons you to “EAT” with a hand-painted sign outside the front screen door.
The interior is rustic and rickety with a corrugated tin facade that promises “great food served daily.” It’s no lie.
The decor features the matrices of the mismatched: Artwork framed by portholes, the “still life” of surfboards standing at attention, netting, knots and the funky, weathered paraphernalia that define seafood shacks up and down our coast.
A painting of the owners and their kitchen crew keeps a mindful eye over the dining room.
Booths and tables are in limited supply, thus the waits. A community table that seats 10 is a popular spot for locals who waste no time looking at the menu and quickly order their favorites.
Three round high tops for two have recently been added to the dining room and a screened-in porch with bench seating handles the overflow. There is no reservation policy, unless you are a large group, and depending on the time of your visit, expect a line.
The food is straightforward and simply prepared. It reflects the season, the local catch, and the preferred preparations of the Lowcountry canon: low and slow or fast and fried.
Kornack makes many of the sauces, including a mustard-based rosy “seahorse sauce” served with grouper fingers ($7.99); homemade spicy Jamaican mayonnaise for jalapeno poppers ($5.99); a sprightly seasoned cocktail sauce and a gritty tartar sauce with ground relish, carrots, pickles and mayonnaise to accompany the seafood baskets.
Meat is on the menu in the form of burgers, chicken, steaks and daily specials.
Seafood is fried with gossamer wings of coating. Encased in their sheer breading, the sweet flavor of the sea sings in dishes of shrimp, scallops, flounder or oysters.
Sides are basic: French fries, sweet potato fries, fried okra, hush puppies, red rice, coleslaw and simply grilled seasonal vegetables.
You can have your seafood fried or grilled and all the dipping sauces are made, not poured. Blackening also is very popular. Even the shrimp ($10.99) and chicken salads ($8.99) are prepared fried or grilled.
You can’t go wrong with the specials, and a recent meal of shrimp, whiting and flounder demonstrated freshness and well-timed cooking.
T.W. Graham’s is a disposable kind of a place. Coleslaw and sauces come in plastic cups and the fried platters and baskets come in fire engine-red plastic baskets. Drinks are in plastic, but wine and beer merit a glass.
The kitchen operates on a short-order regime. Order in, order out and the staff busses whatever comes up — to their credit — rather than seeing your crispy fries wilt when your server is busy pouring sweet tea.
The servers know the menu and can quickly parse the flavors of whiting or a grouper.
Fried green tomatoes ($6.99) get high marks and the local baby clams ($9.99) bob in a white wine and garlic broth that speaks French and tastes Carolina.
T.W. Graham’s and Co. will close Sept. 3 after the Labor Day holiday weekend to take one of its own. It will reopen Sept. 26.